Alonzo Gee rises for a layup over Toronto's defense in March

Re-signed Alonzo Gee sees defense, ball movement as keys to New Orleans improvement

by Jim Eichenhofer

None of the games were on national TV and New Orleans’ playoff hopes had long faded, but Alonzo Gee and his teammates gleaned a few things late last season that they hope will translate to improved results in 2016-17. Perhaps the biggest takeaways? That tighter defense and better ball movement on offense will allow them to come much closer to executing Alvin Gentry’s desired up-tempo pace and plan of attack.

“We learned our defense,” said Gee, who officially re-signed with New Orleans on July 22. “We focused and locked down at that end. To get easy points and play faster, you’ve got to get (defensive) stops. I felt like Coach wanted to play faster, but we had to lock in on defense. We were playing a lot faster at the end of the year, because we learned what the coaches wanted from everybody.”

The University of Alabama product’s role was ever-changing in 2015-16, largely due to widespread injuries that kept occurring to teammates, starting even in October training camp. Gee’s best opportunities to contribute came in late March, when he delivered consecutive 17- and 18-point performances vs. Indiana and Toronto, respectively. With a few exceptions, New Orleans remained competitive over the final month of the season, despite playing without each of its top six scorers (Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole). The Pelicans also had several high-assist games after the March 16 addition of point guard Tim Frazier and averaged 25.6 assists in April, their highest tally in any month.

“Everyone was touching the ball and it was moving,” said Gee, who frustratingly also was struck by the injury bug with a ruptured right quad and sat out the last nine games, after playing in 73 straight. “We weren’t getting that throughout the whole year. But that’s because we were learning a new system and trying to make sure our key players got their touches as well. I feel like that’s the only reason why.”

The 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward has played in an official game for six different NBA teams over his seven-year career, one of many factors behind why Gee wanted to return to New Orleans for a second straight season. The former D-Leaguer also had one eight-month span in which, due to a series of complicated contract-related transactions, he technically was a member of seven different NBA teams.

“That’s one of the reasons it was huge that I came back,” Gee said. “Because I know everybody and I know what the coaches want. I know what to expect. Last year was about trying to get to know how to play with different players. But now I’ll be a lot more comfortable than I was at the start of last year.

“(During last season), it was always adjustments we had to make, because we never knew if we were going to have certain guys available every night. We just had to be ready to play multiple positions and be ready for whatever. We were challenged with different things every game, whether it was defending the best (opposing) player or even at the end of the year, Coach started running plays for me. Last year was a great learning experience for all of us, but I’m very excited (for next season), because I feel like we know what to expect and what we need to do every night.”

Throughout his itinerant NBA career, Gee has been known more for his defensive ability than scoring (career average 6.8 points), something that came in handy for New Orleans last season. Gee was pressed into starting duty 38 times, often given the difficult assignment of trying to contain the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, or even point guards such as Stephen Curry and Brandon Knight. Despite Gee’s best efforts on the defensive end, the Pelicans finished 2015-16 rated 28th at that end of the floor, ahead of only the Lakers and Nets in efficiency. If New Orleans is to make a big jump in the Western Conference standings and return to playoff contention, that ranking will need to improve dramatically.

“Like I said, it starts on the defensive end,” Gee emphasized. “Once we get stops and get out and run, I feel like we’ll be able to compete with anybody.”

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